“I always thought you had to start your own project to make a difference in the world, but I realized that if someone else is doing something meaningful and effective, contributing your passions to that may lead to greater results ”- Carly Sotas, Author of Illusion
Already a published author, Carly Sotas is a great example of how Canadian students are creating social impact through equal parts collaboration, inspiration from others, and a deep-seated drive to make a difference.
She published her book Illusion and began marketing it in the summer of 2015 in order to raise funds for the non-profit organization Pencils of Promise. Pencils of Promise is a global community that establishes schools and education programs in the developing world, with the goal of ensuring every child receives access to quality education.
Carly started out writing about false information provided by the media and magazines around body image and mass consumption. She wanted to write a book that had a more honest dialogue about the topics of happiness, success, and confidence from her own perspective in a way that other people might relate to and make it very accessible to a younger audience.
While writing the book, Carly heard about Pencils of Promise through reading the founder, Adam Braun’s book, The Promise of a Pencil.
“I was in a place where I didn’t know if publishing Illusion was something I wanted to follow through with. By the end of Braun’s book, I was so inspired by the way he spoke about his experiences in such an intimate and personal way and realized that a lot of my writing was also expressed from a place of vulnerability. Illusion wouldn’t have been able to turn into a book without the inspiration from Pencils of Promise and it wouldn’t have been as personal.”
Through this realization, Carly understood that she had to publish her book, which had the potential to let someone know they are not alone; just how Braun’s book had inspired her. Carly finished Illusion and decided to donate all of the proceeds to Pencils of Promise.
Carly passionately geared her book to a younger demographic and loved the fact that 100% of Pencils of Promise’s online donations go to their educational programs. Not only is she an author, but a social entrepreneur as well.
Carly first heard of the term social entrepreneur at UBC where she currently attends, enrolled in the Environmental Design program. Carly was able to attend UBC through the Loran Scholarship, something she describes as a game-changing experience. “The world opened up for me”, she explains. Her studies and commitment to make a difference led her to the UBC social enterprise club, where students are encouraged to use their creativity and passions to create change in the world.
“I would say I identify myself as a social entrepreneur, which is a term I haven’t used in the past” says Carly. “I don’t really care for the words non-profit or charity, but social enterprise has a lot of possibility and excitement in it.”
This echoes another element that attracted her to Pencils of Promise. Carly explains, “The founder Adam Braun considers himself an entrepreneur and doesn’t use the term non-profit. He prefers the term for-purpose and that your goal should be to create change and you can do that by incorporating entrepreneurial knowledge and values into different areas.”
This year, Carly launched a Pencils of Promise chapter at UBC, which provides networking and skill-building opportunities for students that allow them to make a positive impact both locally and abroad. “Our approach offers students an opportunity to develop their own fundraising initiatives, while providing the network and resources they need to put their ideas into action”, Carly says.
The UBC chapter has quickly grown into a cross-campus endeavor with ten student executives from a range of departments. Chapter members also come from a wide range of departments and range from first year to third year students. The well-spring of participation came from a combination of student leadership events, online university career posts, and Facebook. The Chapter is hoping to raise $25,000 to help Pencils of Promise build a school.
Apart from Pencils of Promise, Carly also cites the organization Wear Your Label as a social entrepreneur role model and inspiration for her venture:
“Wear Your Label sells clothes that reduce stigma and raise mental health awareness. They donate 10% of their profits to different mental health awareness and prevention organizations. The founders are very young and keen and really built their company from the ground up. I have been very inspired by everything they have been doing. It’s nice to have somebody to look up to who is of similar age and started from a similar position.”
Carly credits the Jack Summit for introducing her to Wear Your Label. She feels events like that are hugely beneficial for introducing students to such great examples and giving them a chance to network with like-minded peers.
Currently, Carly is assessing impact through Amazon’s customer reviews and rankings to be useful for assessing the impact and reach of her venture. “Additionally, I’m receiving feedback and evaluations forms from conferences and speaking engagements I have presented at, which has also been helpful for assessing the levels of engagement and interest.”
Looking to the future, Carly will continue to expand her individual project into a venture that will inspire more youth to use their passions to make a positive impact, regardless of their age or level of expertise. She is also looking to establish a clear marketing plan and seek support from experienced social entrepreneurs to take her venture to the next level.
[box] A New Chapter of Storytelling
Increasingly, we are seeing that some of the greatest advances in social entrepreneurship and social innovation are coming from students. These stories are being lived, but they are rarely told. As a result, RECODE and the Trico Charitable Foundation are collaborating to survey and interview leading examples of Canadian post-secondary students who are developing social enterprises (for profit or not for profit).
This work seeks to build on RECODE’s survey activities with Emory University in Atlanta, and the insights from the Scaled Purpose and Mount Royal University report “Where to Begin: How Social Innovation is Emerging Across Canadian Campuses”.
It is hoped this research will inform our efforts to help Canada’s post-secondary institutions lead the way in supporting student social entrepreneurs and social innovators. But more than that, it will lead to a series of blogs capturing the students’ journeys. These stories will “reveal how process and purpose can converge to power a new economy for social and ecological impact” and, hopefully, inspire and inform social entrepreneurs within and beyond our Universities.